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Rest

Today is Day 45. I quit smoking six weeks ago. After nearly 50 years I decided to stop. Yay, right? Of course it’s easier said than done. In fact it’s been rather unpleasant but not in the ways it was 12 years ago when I only tried to. Some would say I’m cheating by using nicotine patches, but it makes sense to me: it’s not so much the nicotine but the habit, the routine, the pattern that is so hard to move past. So I’m supporting myself with the patches while I work on creating a new rhythm to life.

And THAT is very hard to do. It’s the empty spaces that are so tough. And I have too many of them. I’m sort of retired, meaning that I work as much as I want to and make my own schedule. But sadly I still have to work, having been financially childish for a long time. Still, I only work about 20-25 hours a week. In fairness, in my particular line of work this is about all one can do. 30 would be a killer and I would almost certainly burn out. 25 is just right; it provides good income but affords enough time to decompress. It is also sustainable week in and week out. Mostly. But there are the inevitable cancellations and no-shows that make my head explode. Not really, but it throws off my rhythm and I don’t like that.

I noticed one night, after several nights of poor sleep, that I was once again struggling to sleep and worried that lack of sleep was feeding the anxiety I was experiencing during the day. And I have never been an anxious person. Depressed? Sure, but never anxious. This new anxiety presents as real physical pain in my chest, sometimes to the point of feeling like I’m having a heart attack. I know I’m not but damn it’s uncomfortable. It passes, and I notice the sense of quiet – like I feel right now – as the counterpoint to the discomfort.

As I lay there, worrying about not sleeping, trying my best to find some thread of thought to hold onto, it occurred to me that sleep was not going to happen and what was it that I really wanted? After wandering about for a bit the word “rest” dropped in. Yes, that was it, what I wanted. To rest. I was reminded of a time, years ago, when I was first attending a men’s Bible study. I was asked to lead the discussion the following week on Hebrews 4 (I think?) and I was scared to death. The idea that confounded me was “rest” and what that meant. I fumbled through it but that night, laying there sleepless, I understood.

I set aside, laid down, any concern for sleep or for that matter anything else. I was unconcerned, I had done all I could for now and that was it. I ceased to need anything; I only needed to rest.

And so I did.

The irony of need is remarkable. When we learn to let go of need, knowing that God will provide what is necessary to serve His purposes, we are able to rest, to lay down the burdens and not worry. Worry never solved anything, need only occasionally. Check in with yourself and find where need is creating the ironic barrier and set it aside. Rest.

Emptying the Nest

Our Dear Darling Daughter Hayley (D3H) has flown the coop. My brain and heart are out of synch and will be for some time. She had moved to Asheville several years ago, but that town is only a few hours away and was an easy drive/ride. Denver? Not so much. Hayley burned her life to the ground; she quit her job of 15 years, sold her stuff and kept only that which fit in her car, and left. But she has earned the right to do this. Debt free, plenty of cash on hand and a healthy 401k. The kid has her shit together. She has a place to live in Denver, a college dorm thing (?!) and has yet to move in or even find a job. But she will. It’s nice to have that kind of confidence in your child.

But now Saber and I are truly on our own, alone in a new way. We are really truly empty nesters. Ugh. We don’t like it. It’s bad enough that Philip and his family are almost on another planet (L.A. really is…) but over the years we have become accustomed to it and see them as often as we can. That sense of distance is difficult… D3H is another thing. We have 30 years of her presence, along with 6 (?) of DDD Teddy (Dear Darling Dog, or D3T.)

Today is the beginning of the ritualized cleaning of the nest. It’s not because D3T was not entirely paper disciplined but a ground up reordering of our home. We began last night with the recaulking of the shower and started today with the living room carpet cleaning. Gross. It’s a process, a ritual, and symbolic (to me anyway) of a mostly blank piece of paper on which Saber and I are writing the next chapters of our lives. Other than our jobs nothing else is off the table, keep/discard, stay/go, whatever we want to do and whenever. Mostly of course, regardless of what American Express says we can do.

I have wanted to move to the Rockies for ever, and with D3H leading the way it is much more likely that we will. When? Who knows. 2 years? 3? Saber is getting on board; as we are pointing at a new car in the next year or so she is talking about a 4×4 or all-wheel drive vehicle. It’s a start! If and when we go we will follow Hayley’s example and scorched-earth our lives, offloading nearly everything (except my Kitchenaid mixer of course!)

I like blank sheets of paper. So much – or little – can be written on them. Each new day is in a sense this, and what we choose to write is much more accessible that most think. We have a sad tendency to become attached to our stuff, not recognizing the enslavement (too strong?) that ensues. Other than the basics nothing is off the table. Sell, give away or throw away anything that creates a burden, gets in the way or is no longer useful. Diminish the burden of chaos and enter into the experience of less. Every day is an opportunity to rethink, well, everything! Our daily routines, what we eat, the style of dress we have (not) cultivated, everything. One day at a time of course, but the idea of choice is powerful; it’s the only real freedom we have, to examine ourselves and choose our responses.

I am diminished

I was recently confronted with another case of self-hatred and its unpleasant effects. It is not something I am unfamiliar with so it gave me pause. I have to admit that I am mostly cured of this unpleasantness but there are the occasional echoes, as the facts are, well, the facts.

It is the facts that matter not the emotion about them. I know I have written about this before, but as rabbit holes go this is one worth revisiting and looking for side tunnels. The intensity of the emotional judgment of ourselves can be overwhelming, even to the point of considering suicide. And that is just not acceptable! I mean really, wanting so badly to die because of some real or (mostly) perceived inadequacy or “failure”? We only fail when we stay stuck in the emotion and therefore don’t learn anything!

The sad thing is that these emotional echoes are so deeply painful in the present moment, so nauseatingly noisy, and it is very difficult to see them for what they are: noise. Just. Noise. The factual memory versus the emotional one, and the reality (that word should be in all caps) that even our factual memory is distorted by our emotional memory. It is the Observation/Perception loop at work. What we observe through our senses is factual. Is is information. But our pattern of interpreting and giving meaning to the information (perception) takes on a life of its own and informs (more like distorts) our observations. We see what we believe, we see things as We Are not as they are. And the pattern deepens and becomes more distorted over time.

When we experience self-loathing or hatred we are judging ourselves through these distorted lenses of perception, projecting the imagined judgment of others onto ourselves. Those perceived judgments have a root in fact: as a child we seek the approval of our caregivers. This is an evolutionary function as it provides a sense of safety. But if we receive disapproval, even rejection of our efforts, one of two things happen: we try harder or we retreat. This is a function of temperament but the pattern is established. And if we don’t figure it out the distortions take root and create wobbles, eventually spinning out of control like an Iranian centrifuge.

Hatred diminishes me. That word – diminishes – is exactly right. It is a lessening of self, a burden that bends the spine of confidence. The other word – hatred – is so toxic, so infectious. It is a cheap, throw-away word but it should not be used, or at least with some consideration. These days hate is conjoined with “phobia”, as in homophobia or transphobia. It is so au courant to throw those labels around but they are too often wildly inaccurate.

phobia(fō′bē-ə)N.

  1. A persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels one to avoid it, despite the awareness and reassurance that it is not dangerous.
  2. A strong fear, dislike, or aversion.

It is said that people fear what they don’t understand. The problem it seems is that folks don’t want to understand. We’ve already made up our minds through the lenses of our best thinking and say we understand, but of course we don’t. Don’t get me wrong, understanding does not equate to approval, but at least there may be some clarity and by extension acceptance (which also does not equate to approval.) Someone recently said that (based on something I said) I am homophobic. It’s laughable that this would be their judgment and it stung a little, but listening through their ears I can see why they would think that.

Set aside your judgment (of others or yourself) and look for understanding. Look for the smudges on your lenses that inform the discomfort and even agony of hate. Stop using the word! Stop feeding the pattern and give yourself an opportunity to learn, to understand, and to be, to some degree, free.

Life inside the guardrails

“This far and no further.” That is the story of my life. It seems that God has put guardrails around me that have protected me (and others) from myself my whole life. While I have banged up against them far too often, they have kept me from becoming something I was not meant to be, kept me on the path that God intended all along. The dreaded “if only’s” or “what if…” are now abundantly clear, and the sense of freedom and deep gratitude flow freely in. I am grateful not only for what I have but for what I lack, what I missed out on – the emotional mind judgment of missing out.

I was born with certain (for lack of a better word) peculiarities. I have an attachment disorder that cracked into existence when I found out, at the age of 5 or so, that I was adopted. My uncle introduced me to his buddies at the barbershop as “the adopted one” and it just broke me. I didn’t know what it meant but it sounded so bad – I was bad. It didn’t help that I was as yet undiagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. That wouldn’t happen for many years, but in hindsight it makes so much sense. A broken sense of self/others, combined with a predisposition to not comprehend others as most do, firmly set me into “Other” land, and there I remain. I also have dysthymia, a chronic, low-grade depression. Combined with the aforementioned stuff this means I am deeply sentimental and broadly speaking just a wee bit sad. Always. There is also the fact of my intelligence and what all the tests say, to which I always rebut with Axiom Number One: “It’s not so much What you know, but what you Do with what you know that matters.” And last but most certainly not least the trauma of having an alcoholic for a parent and the various family dynamics that go along with that. I say these things not to garner pity or sympathy but to just lay the groundwork in facts.

As I read through my FBR work (Fast, Bad, Rong) a couple of themes emerge. First is my amazing lack of self-discipline. I rarely have ever really worked hard at anything – writing included – and always did as well as I did, as it suited me at the time. I also noticed along these lines a sense of self-criticism that judged my performance in whatever as being inadequate, but no motivation to do better, to work harder. Mostly. I did train some in climbing and guitar, but only as it occurred to me in the moment, not with any ambition for long term accomplishment.

The other flows I think from my social awkwardness. I am almost devoid of ambition, that drive to excel. It just doesn’t register any more than social cues do. The social math was always “for me to do better you must do worse” and I could’t stand the thought of harming someone like that. While I’m much better now at reading situations I’m still easily confused in certain ways with certain people, and I still lack the motivation to work hard to some end without a real kick in the butt from someone. I have no idea what my headroom actually is. In anything.

There are another pair of themes in evidence that illustrate clearly my life inside the guardrails. The first is from my climbing “career.” I use that word very loosely of course. But I was very very good at it but never achieved what I could have. It would not have served the Purpose. I was the lead member of an expedition to the Himalaya but a war broke out. I on-sighted an obscenely difficult “X” route (X meaning if you fall you die.) I on-sighted most everything I ever tried. No falls, first try. I didn’t like falling; growing up all the books I read always said “the leader does not fall” so that informed my thinking even before I did my first rock climb. I free-soloed up 35 feet but then backed off, fearing the possibility of landing on a car underneath me (I was afraid of damaging the car, not myself), but later that day I fell 45 feet and decked on a ledge, but no broken bones. “Thus far and no further.” I don’t climb anymore, as the result of hitting the ground way too much on high boulder problems. I was quite adept at landing from 20 feet…

My social existence, my relationships with others, is in a way antithetical to climbing. I always had a poor sense of social cues so I was mostly confused about “girls.” I never dated – didn’t know how to. Sometimes it seems that I missed out on so much, but now I feel more like I (and various “girlfriends”) dodged a volley of bullets. I didn’t know that I knew nothing. It was just awkward and uncomfortable. Ugh, way too many memories there…

I was never a good student. Even though my test scores were, well, whatever, I did enough to get by. I read everything though. I learned multisyllabic words from cereal boxes… I only became a good student when I connected to my purpose; then it was easy. Even the thought of a PhD or a law degree results in nonchalance. I still read voraciously but now it is more focused, aligning with – you guessed it – my purpose.

At the nearly ripe old age of 64 it has become clear that God protected me by withholding certain things and having me be blissfully unaware of it. He allowed glimpses of things that could have been but never were – these glimpses were His gift to me, saying that I was not a failure but His beloved. My old self used to think (far too often) “If you’re so smart why aren’t you rich?!” This prompted profound doubt of myself and the judgments of “I’m stupid, failure, worthless.” None of which of course are true. And now I am even grateful for those distortions as I have overcome them. The “yeah, buts” have no authority any longer, and what I have learned ironically makes them valuable.

Too often we rail against What Is, clinging to what Should Have Been! We miss out on so much. This distorted judgment obscures our potential to find and cultivate value, our Muchness. We are slaves to our own minds and don’t know it.

We all need a sense of purpose, to find some meaning in our lives beyond the acquisition of stuff or perceived status that makes us feel good about ourselves. I know what mine is and I am profoundly grateful. One night I asked Saber about hers and she replied that it seemed that it was to stick with me during my vast adolescence so that I could become the person God intended. She was, and is, my close personal guardrail, and she has the dents to prove it.

People come in and out of our lives, and I believe they all serve some purpose. For good or ill we can learn. Or we can be kicked off course. The same holds true for us with others; we have all been the bad guy in someone’s story, so I guess the idea is to do our best not to be, but perhaps even be the hero. I have 3 very close friends, the ones who accept me no matter what and I them. I matter to them and I honor that as best I can. One in particular I have learned so much from, been so blessed by, even though the learning and blessings have come at a brutal emotional price. Well, they were brutal at the time but I have done my best to learn and pass on the learning so I am grateful. I wonder sometimes what gift I have been in return, but that is none of my business and must let it alone. I no longer need to know. And it is the release from “need” that has been the greatest gift of all.

I could have been many things I suppose but I am who and what I am today, and I am grateful. I do not need anything except to serve my God given purpose as best I can. You go where you look, and I look with curiosity towards the future while paying attention to the present. It’s a gift, after all.

Eat a stick of butter

That got your attention didn’t it? A dear friend of mine used that phrase when I was feeling grumpy one day. The first piece of advice was to get my ass in the kitchen and bake some cookies. I did and it helped. The follow up was “bake a loaf of bread, eat a stick of butter, and scrub the floors by hand. That last bit will be undertaken on Friday morning; Saber bought me some Murphy’s Oil Soap and scrub I will!

There’s two important points to the advice, even if they weren’t intended in this way. First, the absurdity of eating a stick of butter tends to grab your attention. I mean really, it’s just weird isn’t it? Nobody does that. Totally left field. This is an example of the Turn the Mind skill from DBT, although the imagery turns it for you. The second reveals another skill, that of Participate, or Enter into the Experience. DO so One-Mindfully or with full attention. Eat an apple (much more appealing than a stick of butter!) It is a full sensory experience. There is the feel of the apple in your hand and the sensation of biting it. The smell and taste are bound together and there is often a satisfying crunch. And you see where you have eaten it and move it around as you go. All the senses are engaged!

We call this an Eating Mindfulness; we can turn our full attention to what is at hand, namely an apple (or a stick of butter if you’re so inclined.) I often do this in my classes with cookies. They too engage all our senses and are especially yummy. I mean I like apples, but a chocolate chip cookie… 🙂

So take my friend’s advice as I did and get busy paying attention! It’ll make your mouth happy and offer you a brief and very pleasant experience that may just make your day a wee bit better. And say thanks to Rebecca for her wisdom.

How are you?

An innocuous question, one that is asked every Sunday (lol!) at churches across America, and it is usually answered with “I’m fine.” Which is no answer at all but is accepted, usually in the same spirit in which it was asked – which is shallow and really disinterested.

My dear friend Zane asked me, the last time I saw her, “Are you happy?” And she meant the question with real depth and sincerity. That’s one of the reasons she is my friend. My answer was sincere and vulnerable and didn’t have to become a litany of my woes. It opened up opportunity for discussion of either the positives or otherwise as she perceived them to be appropriate.

I have been reading Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance and that question shows up. It prompts me to consider both the intention behind asking the question in a meaningful way – wanting to know the other person with greater depth – but also offering an opportunity to the other to answer as they can, to perhaps go into real vulnerability. I think about those who matter most to me and asking that question, hoping for an answer with depth. That hope is predicated on my relationship with them, how much I love them in the way that I do, and wanting to know them better.

Part of the problem may be that people don’t know how to answer the question, or aren’t able to as they are not used to even asking themselves the question. So many go through life with “I’m fine” as their internal default, all the while knowing otherwise (as evidenced by their internal dialogue.)

Now I pose the question to you dear reader: How are you?

Homesick

Today I had this weird feeling. It was a queasiness in my stomach, an ache in my spirit. When I was teaching we were discussing the Observe and Describe skills where we observe feelings, body sensations, and then put the most accurate words to them. As I am wont to do I used my current state as an example, and struggled to find the right words to describe this feeling. My student said “you’re homesick.” And dang if that wasn’t exactly it! What prompted this was my (again) missing my friend but today it was louder than usual, more present. So I thought about homesick and why it was so perfect an expression.

When I think about my friend there is a sense of a very deep connection. There is a similar feeling when I look at the picture of K2. Both prompt very similar feelings. Weird, right? I see her picture and K2 and it’s so nearly the same: a sense on the deepest level of “home.”

I am told I think too much (to which I respond “that’s what I do!) so there is very fertile soil in this odd sensibility of home. We’ll see… What is it about these two disparate things that resonates so deeply in me?

I also used something she said to me in response to a recent whine and I used it with my student. First I was told to get my ass in the kitchen and bake cookies. So I did and of course it worked. Then she said “bake some bread, eat a stick of butter, and scrub the floor by hand.” To illustrate the Turning the Mind skill I mentioned “eat a stick of butter” and that did the trick. My student’s mind turned from her sorrows with DFCS and her kids to the absurdity of eating a stick of butter.

I then noticed an urge to tell my friend how helpful her silliness had been. The idea was to validate her and so feel good about herself. But then I thought about it and recognized that what I really wanted was to prompt a response from her. And that I did not like. That childish emotional mind need corrupted the value of her words and me validating them. I felt sick.

But then further down the rabbit hole I found that I didn’t need a response, that the value needn’t be corrupted. So I texted her and told the whole story, including the “need” for a response. I honored the value of her words and how helpful they were to someone she would never meet. And I left it at that.

It is the attachment to some outcome dictated by our childishness that we have to beware of, that corrupting influence that so easily infects the valuable aspects of ourselves.

Today (several days after the initial post) I am noticing again the homesickness and I think further about what “home” is, where, who and what. Maybe why, I dunno. Why may be a bridge too far.

I have always had this deep connection to the Colorado Rockies. Different places but the same sense of connection, of “home.” But I am not there, nor am I with my friend. But I am, in my heart, in my soul. And that has to be good enough otherwise my childish emotional mind starts up with “need.” Ugh. Gratitude helps recognize what is and ask “is there Home to be found here, now?” I turn towards gratitude and find connection with what is, and it is up to me to look for the deeper aspects of these connections, to ascribe Home to them too, and thus to experience contentment.

On being of the Fae

I used to spell it Fey but it is more accurately spelled Fae, as in Faeirie. No, I’m not a “fairy”; it is more a state of mind or confluence of personality quirks that creates the Fae. There is a sense of whimsy of course. There is also a child-like sense of wonder about all things. And an innocence born of the fertile soil of disorder. Attachment disorder, mild Asperger’s, dysthymia, a twist of intelligence, and trauma. These elements created an incredible selfishness but a mindless one (otherwise I’d be a sociopath.) They are expressed in a near-complete lack of ambition and a poor sense of how I am viewed by others.

But the Fae know this and rejoice in becoming the best version of themselves. We embrace our weirdness – we have to. As with all patterns of the mind we can turn towards those thoughts, judgments and emotions that foment chaos or we can turn otherwise to the patterns of the Fae: whimsy, delight, wonder, innocence.

I look at a picture of the north ridge of K2 and I experience what I can only describe as joy. I will never set foot on that mountain or see the north ridge, but I can trek to basecamp and experience in person the awesomeness that is this magical (and deadly) mountain. I may do that… We’ll see 🙂

K2 North Pillar (8611m). That traverse looks terrifying. Wish I could climb  this. | Beautiful landscapes, Beautiful places, Mountain landscape
Beautiful
K2: Arrived at K2 Base Camp - Joe Ashkar
This is what I long to see in person

To the Fae mind these images prompt a soul-level emotional response, one of awe and wonder, even joy. The Fae suffer more than most, being attuned empathetically to the sorrows of the world, but we are not controlled by these sorrows. In fact, they add to who and what we are. Where there is sorrow we respond with love, where there is evil we respond with love, and where there is suffering we respond with love. Love is the hallmark of the Fae. Love is the distillation of whimsy, wonder, awe, joy and yes, sorrow.

I don’t think that one can aspire to be of the Fae, it is that we are born this way but must discover it within ourselves. The qualities we possess can certainly be developed (well, mostly) and it is a worthwhile journey. You will be judged as “weird” and so what?! The judgments of others leave me unconcerned and they are the business of those doing the judging anyway. Who and what I am, and how I walk the path set before me by God is all I am concerned with. I look for the blessing and (hopefully) learn, and then pass on the blessing or lesson. That’s all I can do.

Being of the Fae requires intention and effort. It demands losing attachments to outcomes, as they create filters to our authenticity. Attachments are expressions of self and of need. The Fae have no need; we can want one thing or another but always default to “we’ll see!” I’m not there yet as I still struggle with certain attachments and “need.” But I recognize them and may soon understand them and by definition I will then be free of them. Understanding brings authority and authority creates freedom.

Where are the Men (and Women)?!

Once again a continuation of a previous post, or at least an extension of a thought. A good percentage of the people I work with are chronological adults but emotional children. And sadly the more I look around the more I see this in the greater community, even our nation. People are devolving into emotional adolescence. The immediacy of the news cycle – whatever that is nowadays – leads to both intellectual and emotional confusion, and without an ingrained moral compass we lose our way. Social media, while being a boon for those isolated and alone, has evolved (devolved?) into a false reality and thus our pattern of interpreting and giving meaning to information grows distorted and the echo chamber of our mind resonates with this distortion.

One of my favorite websites is The Art of Manliness. It was started as a blog on manly virtues and skills but evolved (correct word!) into a treasure trove of skills and philosophical dissertations on virtues and ideas. It is very well written. So rather than paraphrase and even steal without proper attribution I present instead the actual article. Why gild the lily?

What our nations and communities need now more than ever are men and women with “chests.” And it is up to us, this current generation, to learn and pass this on. You can’t teach what you don’t know, so please take the time to read the article, consider your own pattern, and act accordingly.

Https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/men-without-chests

No one teaches this anymore. Why? Because they weren’t taught. And some things can’t be taught, they must be experienced. The “Greatest Generation” failed to teach their children the most important lesson of all, that of delayed gratification. They did great things, built greatness, but they were able to because they knew lack, they experienced deprivation and it made them strong. Tough. That toughness can’t be taught. It is gained through trial, and they wanted us to not know those trials and thus deprived their children of the lessons. Now, when the going gets tough there are few tough to get going. We are a society of whiners, of weaklings, of Wainrights. The cultural Childish Emotional Mind is ascendant and those few who are tough, who are actually adults are now vilified and labeled as “bad.” Terrorist or Freedom Fighter? Depends on your perspective. And the cultural narrative is turning towards the former, not knowing even what freedom is.

We have perpetuated and deepened the culture of Wainright by not allowing for failure, for inadequacy. We hand out participation trophies, and the competent, skilled and even brilliant do it themselves rather than teach and allow real learning through failure.

And once again, Brett McKay has posted more eloquently than I:

https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/the-anti-crisis-crisis/

Comfortably uncomfortable

As an extension to my last couple of posts, those words have been used more than once recently so I’m paying attention to them.

One of my former students, as her “graduation statement” said this: “I’ve learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable so I can be comfortable later.” And last night in class a student said, “Radical Openness is about learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.” And this morning in a meeting I found this to be true too. My friends and I are in positions of authority yet we are terribly uncomfortable with it; we aren’t natural leaders and are really struggling with the very present need to lead. So how can we become comfortable with this? It is necessary in order to be effective.

Once again Radical Acceptance is valuable; things cannot be any other way than how they are, and I (we) can struggle against what is or turn towards it and look for what is helpful and wanted (much like my birthday cake debacle.) What can be learned from the discomfort? If I can find value in being uncomfortable then I will be less so.

Checking the facts helps separate the fact from the fiction, the truth from the propaganda, and generally eases the discomfort to some degree. It’s a good start, seeing as best we can the B.S. that is feeding the discomfort. At the same time becoming more aware of what really is and those areas of opportunity for learning and growth. We have to turn down the volume of the noise of “uncomfortable” in order to see it for what it is: opportunity.

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